Cracking the code

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the act of officially setting a retirement date set a lot of things in motion about which I had no idea.  My name was placed on a few lists here and there, and soon enough I began to receive emails and phonecalls asking me to set up appointments and attend transition courses.  It seemed a bit random at first, but all became clear when I met again with the transition specialist.  Now that I had established a solid date, I could move forward with the myriad tasks ahead of me- tasks that I really didn’t know too much about.

As I sat in the standard issue uncomfortable government issued chair beside his standard issue faux wood desk he noticed my blank stare and handed me what appeared to be an unremarkable handful of papers with a government issued staple in the corner.

I looked at the first page and saw that much of my future sleuthing about to find points of contact would be unnecessary.  “Retirement Contact Numbers” it proclaimed at the top, and below the title were over a dozen phone numbers of the various people and organizations that I would be required to coordinate with as I transitioned.  Sure enough, I discerned the names and email addresses of some of the people who had been contacting me, seemingly out of the blue.  Aha, I thought- a method to the madness.  Good stuff!

I turned the page, and read words that set my heart racing.

“RETIREMENT CHECKLIST FOR RETIREES” it said.  Despite the repetitive syntax (although there may be a Retirement Checklist for non-retirees I suppose), it was exactly what I needed.

To a Marine, and I suspect all servicemen and women, checklists hold a disproportionate level of elevated importance.  Pretty much everything we do can in some way be distilled down to a list with little boxes next to every line, boxes that beg to be checked as you perform whatever it is that the list is for.  Checklists rule pretty much every aspect our martial lives…

As a recruit I learned everything about the military by the numbers in checklist fashion, from how to lace my boots (“One-Grasp the laces in both hands!  Two- Insert the aglet in the lowermost eyelets, and cross the laces left over right until you run out of eyelets!) to the intricacies of the M-16 (“There are eight steps in the cycle of operation of the M-16A1 service rifle!  They are firing, unlocking, extracting, ejecting, cocking, feeding, chambering, locking….and don’t you forget it!!).  Our undershirts were folded according to the unyeilding inspection requirement that they neatly fit into 6″ by 6” squares and our socks were rolled into precise little balls that, despite their olive drab color, were reminiscent of meatballs in some fine Italian restaurant.

The predilection for neatly arranged lists followed me through my career.  Just as corporate managers dread the arrival of a clipboard toting efficiency expert, military types cringe at the sight of a clipboard toting inspector.  Necessary evils perhaps, but they share the same method of accounting and delivery- a bit of paper with a grade at the top, based on how well each item was scored on the checklist.  And, of course, everything gets inspected in the military, so there is almost a perpetual state of anxiety that induces ulcers and makes one long for the simplicity of a firefight with Al Queda or the Taliban.

Checklists have been thoroughly and completely etched into my psyche.  I use them for everything, or at least for everything that I need to get done.  In combat we used them to ensure that we had everything we needed (Grenades?  Check!  Ammo?  Check!  Water?  Check!), and at home I write a list of household tasks with little boxes next to them and earnestly attempt to check them off as quickly as possible.  My meeting at the retirement office was neatly written next to a tiny rectangle in my notebook, and as soon as my meeting was done I would gleefully put a tiny “x” with the box and move on to the next entry.

But I digress.  The arrival of this particular checklist produced the anti-cringing emontion of pure joy.  It was the Rosetta Stone that translated all of the gibberish of retirement into an organized and comprehensive compendium of every box I needed to check in order to complete the transition process.  Hugging the packet to my chest, I rose from the standard issue uncomfortable government issued chair and floated out of the  retirement office, marking the little box on my own checklist and happily setting out to check every box on my newly acquired agenda.  More on that in the next post.


Lessons learned:

– All of the answers you need are out there.  You just need to know where to go to find them, and in typical military fashion I can guarantee that there is checklist out there somewhere that will greatly aid you in your transition.

-I should have asked for the checklist up front instead of just blankly staring at the counselor until he took pity on me and handed it over.  One of your first stops once you decide to retire is the administration shop that will be processing your retirement as they have a wealth of information and advice that they will cheerfully provide.  All you need to do is ask.


4 responses to “Cracking the code

  1. Sir,
    I really enjoy reading your posts. I really wish I had something like this to read before I transitioned out. Hope all goes well.


    • Geoff,
      Thanks for the feedback! I will keep writing- let me know if it is on the mark. Keep reading and best of luck. What are you up to these days?

      • I’m going to school in Pittsbugh and graduate in the spring with a Bach in Science and Technology.

  2. Geoff,
    Good for you. I am going back to school as well, and I am really looking forward to it. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is fantastic! Congrats on your impending graduation!

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